SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The 76ers and Kings both entered Monday’s matchup with issues.
Sacramento had lost seven of its previous eight games, leading to Sunday’s firing of coach Luke Walton. The Sixers had dropped six of their previous seven due to a rash of injuries and players in health and safety protocols during the past three weeks, and were without four starters against the Kings.
But the Sixers temporarily got back on track Monday, rallying from nine points down with less than 10 minutes to play to top the Kings, 102-94, in a clunky, down-to-the-wire and ultimately satisfying victory at the Golden1 Center.
“We said it before the game: ‘We’re gonna win the game,’” coach Doc Rivers said. “I said, ‘I don’t know how, but we’re gonna figure it out as the game goes on.’ ... These type of wins, when you have them, are really enjoyable. They’re such team wins.
“There was not one guy tonight. It was so many guys that did so many little things. When you have a team like ours that actually believes that they can win these games, it helps.”
Philly finished the game on a 17-4 run, and held the Kings to 12 points on 21% shooting (including 0-for-10 from three-point distance) in the final period. Backup point guard Shake Milton hit a pair of pull-up jumpers to give the Sixers a 93-90 lead with less than five minutes left, before an Andre Drummond free throw and one-handed dunk pushed that advantage to two possessions at 96-92 with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining. Milton then all but iced the game with two free throws that made the score 98-92 with less than a minute left.
The Sixers (10-8) played Monday without superstar Joel Embiid (COVID-19 protocols), who has returned to individual workouts, but has not yet rejoined the team, Tobias Harris (hip), Danny Green (hamstring) and Seth Curry, who was a late scratch because of back tightness. As a result, the Sixers started Drummond, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang — their 10th different starting lineup in 18 games.
It was a much-needed victory before the final game of this season-long six-game road trip Wednesday at the Golden State Warriors, who boast the NBA’s best record at 15-2.
Drummond spearheads dominant fourth quarter
Drummond had a message for Tristain Thompson — who had given the Kings a nice frontcourt lift in the second half — when he checked back into the game in the fourth quarter.
“That [expletive] is dead,” Drummond said as he walked by. “You’re not getting no more [rebounds], that’s over with.”
Rivers called Drummond’s rebounding effort “dominant” in the game’s final minutes. He grabbed 10 of the Sixers’ 16 total boards in the fourth, and finished with 23 for the game. He squashed Kings possessions, helping hold them to 12 points in the period. His four offensive rebounds kept Sixers possessions alive, including on a follow one-handed dunk that gave Philly a four-point lead with less than two minutes to play.
“It’s just that mentality of wanting to get it every single time,” Drummond said, “and giving my team the best shot possible when I get that rebound.”
Drummond was one of several players who stepped up during a fourth quarter that the Sixers won by 13 points.
Milton hit the big shots and free throws, flashing the confidence to call for an isolation when he recognized the Kings were trapping defensively. Thybulle shut down sharpshooter Buddy Hield, who went 0-for-4 from deep in the fourth (and 1-for-7 after his blistering 4-for-4 first quarter). Like Milton, Niang and Maxey scored six points apiece. Overall, the Sixers went 9-of-12 from the free-throw line in the period.
“Tonight, we got to the last six minutes and we didn’t know who was going to make a bucket,” Rivers said. “But we played great defense and we executed offensively and the ball found the open guy, and that’s a good lesson for us.”
Next man up
When asked if he would play a 10-man rotation against the Kings, Rivers responed, “Do we have 10 guys?”
The Sixers coach was not joking. He only had nine players available, including four (Maxey, Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey) who were on the summer league roster in August and have, at most, been in the NBA for a little more than a calendar year.
Those young players carried much of the offensive load. Maxey, who has rapidly become the productive mainstay while the roster depletes around him, finished with a team-high 24 points and four assists. Thybulle went 6-of-8 from the floor to finish with 15 points in his second game back from COVID-19 protocols, flashing his speed and athleticism on run-out and cutting dunks. Joe, who is not regularly in the rotation, added 11 points.
Rivers was forced to get even more creative when Maxey and Drummond picked up two fouls apiece in the first quarter. At times, the Sixers played with a lineup of Milton, Joe, Korkmaz, Reed and Bassey.
The cliche that the NBA is a make-or-miss league has followed the Sixers the past two games. Rivers called it the difference in Saturday’s 118-111 loss at Portland, when the Trail Blazers went 15-of-34 from three-point range while the Sixers connected on 10 of 28 attempts from beyond the arc.
Monday night, the Kings looked poised to continue that trend by making five of their first seven long balls, including that 4-of-4 outburst from Hield. The Sixers went 5-of-13 during that time, including a 1-of-4 mark from Niang.
After that, the Kings went 2-of-24 from deep including that 0-for in the fourth quarter. The Sixers finished 9-of-32 for the game and 0-for-3 in the final period.
At the start of the second half, however, the Kings attacked the paint. Richaun Holmes scored the Kings’ first 10 points of the third quarter, including a go-ahead alley-oop dunk. After not playing in the first half, Thompson totaled eight points and four rebounds in seven third-quarter minutes. An acrobatic at-the-buzzer finish by Davion Mitchell capped that period and gave the Kings an 82-77 advantage entering the final period.
Then, the Kings started missing shots. Drummond gobbled up rebounds. And the Sixers’ balanced offensive attack paced their steady comeback.
Setting the pace
Rivers expected the Kings to up their tempo with Gentry now in charge. When asked before the game how to counter that attack, Rivers joked “trip Fox,” referring to speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox.
The Sixers failed in the first quarter, allowing 11 fast-break points. But the Kings totaled just two after that.
Philly, meanwhile, 10 transition points. That was by design. To help make up for their lack of bodies, the Sixers deliberately slowed the game down by running more halfcourt sets and churning clock.
“We told our guys, ‘We don’t have a fastbreak tonight. If you don’t see it, back it out and use clock,’” Rivers said.
Added Maxey: “That’s a great game plan. He told us, if we can get to the fourth quarter and the game is still [attainable], we’ll win it. We trusted him.”